Author: Sleńdziński Wincenty Leopold, 1837 - 1909
Material / technique: oil on board.
Dimensions: 40.50 x 29.50 cm.
Unsigned, writing on the other side of the painting in French: Le Vieux / peint par Vincent. Sleńzdiński. / Vilnà 1895 an.
The themes of vagrants, beggars and pilgrims were highly prominent in the art of the famous 19th century Lithuanian painter V. Slendzinskis through all stages of the his creative life. He most likely inherited the motif of beggars from his father Aleksandras Slendzinskis, who, at the peak of his career, created perhaps more images of the society’s third, lowest class’ members than any other 19th century Lithuanian painter. Needless to say, attention to everyday scenes and common people can be considered one of the main traditions of the Vilnius Art School. However, only the works of the Slendzinskiai portray these people without idealism, and with shocking realism instead.
“The Old Man” was created in the late period of V. Slendzinskis’ creative career, when the artist lived in Vilnius. It was painted on a panel rather than canvas, as characteristic of the later paintings of the artist. This painting differs from some other similarly themed works created in the last decade of the 19th century, for instance, “The Blind Musician” (pic. 1). “The Old Man” is painted in a less dry manner, with softer brushstrokes. The small format of the painting points to it perhaps being a study done to prepare for a larger work. The greenish-brown colour scheme and the general composition are characteristic of V. Sledzinskis’ style.
The old man is portrayed sitting on a bench by the wall inside a church (as shown by his hat and a prayer book held in his hands). The man’s clothing speaks of the cold outside: he is wearing a fur coat, with a scarf wrapped around his head and worn out boots. The pious old man could be a member of the beggar community, based on a fabric bag on his shoulder. It is very likely that the old man is depicted in the Vilnius Bernardine church, as the artist was connected to it in many ways: the Sledzinskiai family were members of the Bernardine parish, V. Sledzinskis himself restored the paintings in the church, and the beggar community, active near the church, inspired his works. For example, his painting “The Beggar” displayed in the 1909 art exhibition in Vilnius shows “the General of the beggar academy near the Bernardine church”. I would not agree with art historian Jolita Mulevičiūtė’s statement in her book “Besotis Žvilgsnis” (Vilnius, 2012) that “in these late portraits of societal archetypes, a human being is seen as a worn out, worthless, repulsive matter, an empty fabric shell that will soon disintegrate”. These praying beggars, mercilessly portrayed in the artist’s works without any attempt to hide the poverty of their earthly lives or the deterioration of their bodies, I believe, convey a deep belief not in the eyes of man, but in the eyes of God, who sees his beloved children, his saved souls even in these wretched figures (Dr (hp) Rūta Janonienė, Senior Researcher, Institute of Art Studies, Vilnius Academy of Arts).